Land banking and property investment schemes
Land banking is a real estate investment scheme that involves buying large blocks of undeveloped land with a view to selling the land at a profit when it has been approved for development.
You may think land banking is a way to expand an exisiting investment portfolio or get into the property market, however, there are some things you should be aware of before you hand over your money. Here we explain how land banking works and the risks you take with this type of investment.
What is land banking?
Property developers usually buy land, divide it into smaller blocks and offer it to investors. Investors either buy a plot of land or buy an option to purchase a plot of land. These are often know as ‘option agreements’. The option agreement is usually triggered when the land has been approved for development by the local council.
Land banking schemes may be managed investment schemes or involve the sale of a financial product. If this is the case, there are strict legal requirements that must be met.
Developers often sell the plots of land from ‘concept plans’. These plans are not approved subdivision plots and only offer a view of what the land could look like if it is approved for residential zoning and sub divided for development in the future.
If the land is ever developed, there is no guarantee the plot of land an investor initially buys will be the same plot of land they get in the future.
How land banking is sold to investors
ASIC is concerned that investors who get involved in land banking schemes are not aware that the schemes are often unregulated and investors have little protection if something goes wrong.
Potential investors often hear about land banking at property spruiking or investment seminars, where they are described as ‘a get rich slow option’. Glossy brochures and presentations are used to persuade investors that land banking is a cheaper way to get into the property market than through buying an investment property.
Property spruiking events and investment seminars are often high pressure environments and participants can be rushed into making a decision. People are usually not given enough time to consider the investment carefully or to receive independent advice before they sign up.
For more information about the sales tactics used at these events, see investment seminars.
What can go wrong in a land banking scheme
There is real potential that investors can be misled by developers about the prospects of rezoning or developing the land.
Some developers offer land as an investment without knowing for certain that they will get council authority to develop it. In some cases developers have also failed to tell investors that there are restrictions on how the land can be developed.
If development approval is not granted, investors are left with an unsaleable investment that is likely to be worth less than they originally paid.
It may take many years and lots of money to get planning approval. Over time, ongoing legal and planning costs can eat into the funding for the development and may lead to the development company becoming insolvent. If this happens, option holders may lose all the money they’ve invested.
A number of land banking schemes have collapsed in Australia and overseas without the promoted development ever proceeding.
Some land banking schemes have option agreements with a ‘sunset clause’ that is triggered 20 or 25 years from the date of the agreement if the land fails to be rezoned or developed. If this occurs, investors may lose the initial option fee they paid if there’s not enough money to repay all option holders.
When investors enter into an option agreement they may also have to pay legal fees, commission payments and payments to the development company that may not be refunded if a sunset clause is triggered.
ASIC is also concerned that option holders may be misled into purchasing options in a ‘concept plan’ and not an officially approved plan.
Investors may be scammed by developers who are offering options in land that they do not own.
LEGAL OR FINANCIAL ADVICE
Many promoters of land banking schemes offer to refer you to lawyers, accountants or financial advisers. Be aware that any people you have been referred to may have a pre-existing business relationship with the promoter or developer. The developer may receive a kickback for referring you to these other professionals.
It’s also possible that the lawyer, accountant or adviser you’ve been referred to has a personal interest in the property development.
For more information about this practice, see one stop shops.
If you are thinking about investing in a land banking scheme, you should find your own independent financial or legal adviser.
Checks to do before investing in a land banking scheme
If you are considering investing in a land banking scheme, we strongly recommend that you contact the local council where the land is located to ask them if the land will ever be released for development.
A land banking promoter may try to persuade you that the council is not aware of all potential developments. You should question the promoter’s motivation for telling you this.
IS IT A MANAGED INVESTMENT SCHEME?
If the developers and promoters are legally running a managed investment scheme, they must have an Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) that allows them to run the scheme.
Many land banking schemes are set up to avoid the characteristics of a managed investment scheme – at least on paper.
The scheme may be a managed investment scheme if:
- investors do not have day-to-day control over managing their investment
- the scheme involves pooling investor funds
- the funds are used to further the development.
You can check ASIC Connect’s Professional Registers to see if the developer and the promoter hold an AFSL.
IS THE SCHEME REGISTERED?
In most cases, it is illegal to offer units or interests in what is actually a managed investment scheme unless the scheme is registered with ASIC. You can check ASIC Connect within the ‘organisation and business names search’ to see if a scheme is registered with ASIC. Registered schemes will have an Australian Registered Scheme Number (ARSN) that can be searched.
See illegal managed investment schemes to help you work out if the managed investment is legal.
Remember, if the scheme is unregistered or the operators of the scheme are unlicensed, you will have little protection if things go wrong..
READ THE PDS
If the investment is a managed investment scheme you must be given a product disclosure statement (PDS). A PDS must include information about the scheme’s key features, fees, commissions, benefits, risks and complaints handling procedure.
Make sure you read the PDS. If you don’t understand the investment, get independent financial or legal advice.
Do not confuse the PDS with marketing material used to sell the investment such as brochures or information sheets.
IS THE INVESTMENT RIGHT FOR YOU?
You should also consider whether investing in a land banking scheme suits your investment goals. See invest smarter for our tips on matching an investment with your needs and objectives.
Land banking may seem like an easy way to get into the property market, however, there are many risks associated with this type of investment. Make sure you research and understand what you’re getting into before you hand over your money.
This Article is an extract from Property Observer article written by a Staff Observer on 1 Sept 2016.
Property Friends is a specialist Property Investment Advocacy that has been operating for the last 13 years on the basis of 3 principles: Trust, Community & Progress. www.propertyfriends.com.au (03) 9758 5331
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